To the visiting outsider, the Jackson County town of Sylva epitomizes the western reaches of Southern Appalachia: soft but tall hills flush with blue-green hues, forming a horizon shrouded in mist; a Main Street of old brick buildings decked with awnings and oblong wooden signs culminating with a regal civic building at the top of the hill.
Nearby Cullowhee has a similar feel, with the distinction of having a university that hosts more than 10,000 students from 48 states and 35 countries.
But that’s all postcards and history, which is pretty much all you get as an interloper — unless you have time enough to look at a map with a local.
Where to go/What to See
One of the most well-known buildings in the county, the Jackson County Courthouse/Library is part of the courthouse building. The library hosts events for all ages every week, including movie nights, computer courses, family nights and Lego club.
310 Keener St., Sylva. 828-586-2016
City Lights Bookstore & Café has been in Sylva since 1984, helping to share Appalachian literature with the world. The owner, Chris Wilcox, is so proud of his store that if you have “anything short of a great experience,” he has his cellphone number on his website and encourages you to call.
3 E. Jackson St., Sylva. 828-586-9499
Jack the Dipper Ice Cream has been around since 1976. It’s a great place to go for a cool treat, with homemade waffle cones and a great variety of ice cream flavors, as well as other delicious options like shaved ice.
170 East Sylva Shopping Center, 828-586-9941
In their own words
“Often, Sylva is overlooked in the debate of great destinations. However, with a closer look, you can view a rich culture of mountain tradition as well as true diversity amongst our residents. Making this, in my opinion, one of the last true paradises in America. There's no place I'd rather be.” — Coleen Weeks, manager of Level 10 Salon
“What makes Sylva special is the people in the community — they are so welcoming and become your family in no time. Sylva always has something fun going on, and [Sylva] is great for kids.” — Ashleigh Greenway, hair stylist at Perfect Reflections
“It is a small town with a lot of opportunities, culture and community interaction. It’s a great place for folks of all ages, and the community has a huge heart. I was born and grew up in Sylva, but moved around a lot. Having lived in many urban areas, coming home to Sylva was the best decision I ever made. It doesn’t just charm me; it holds my heart.” — Dottie Brunette, head librarian
Did you know?
Cullowhee, originally known as Painters, started out as a farming community. The university was built on farmlands where students keep the farm running by harvesting vegetables that would be served in the cafeteria.
Cullowhee was home to the state’s first publicly funded normal school, which would go on to become Western Carolina University in 1889.
The country’s second human-remains research station lies within the borders of Cullowhee. The lab, commonly known as “The Facility,” is used for studying human decomposition under a variety of circumstances.
Where to go
The Judaculla Rock is a soapstone boulder with ancient petroglyphs. The Cherokee considered it sacred. One version of the boulder’s legend says the markings were created by the slant-eyed giant Judaculla, claiming he fell on it, imprinting his seven-fingered hand print. Some say ghostly sounds can be heard near the rock after nightfall. The Judaculla Rock is free to the public and located on Judaculla Road in Cullowhee, just off of Caney Fork Road, near N.C. 107 South. judacullarock.com
Rolling Stone Burrito, across from the main WCU campus, is a favorite of students, locals and professors. Rolling Stone offers a variety of burritos as well as merchandise featuring its iconic stickman. It’s also home to the Fire in the Hole burrito challenge. Every Friday, brave individuals are encouraged to try the super-hot Fire in the Hole burrito. Anyone who can finish it gets their picture on the wall of previous winners.
Arrowmont Stables and Cabins offers cabin rentals and a slew of activities for the family. The stables offer hayrides, horseback riding trails, lessons and a summer horse camp for children. Arrowmont has been in business since 1960.
800-682-1092 or 828-743-2762, arrowmont.com.
Believe it or not!
Cadaver dog training sessions are held at Western Carolina University throughout the year. Handlers and their canine counterparts work to identify human versus nonhuman remains and expose the dogs to full body decomposition. Handlers learn about the human decomposition process and bone identification along with a variety of other subjects. The program is in cooperation with the university’s forensic anthropology program.
Continuing and Professional Education, 828-227-7397.
Mad Batter Bakery and Café is yet another favorite among the diverse group of Cullowhee residents. Since its opening in 1998, Mad Batter has served fresh and organic meals at prices that college students can afford. It also grows its own produce. Beer and wine are now available as well. Hours are 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and brunch times on Saturday and Sunday.
In Their Words
I’m new here, but I think the people make Cullowhee special. The kids are great; they’ve been welcoming to me. The staff [of WCU] and the kids are great. — Jessica Danner, owner of Rooster’s restaurant
“[What makes Cullowhee special is] carrying you rain gear in your backpack all day through classes only to use it for five minutes when the clouds decide to occlude the sun and remind you to expect the expected— ‘cause you expect it to rain.” — Nick Wall, WCU student
“I love to come through Catamount Gap, come around the corner and all of a sudden everything opens up. Right in front of you, you see a steep mountain with a rounded top. Setting here is just fantastic. You can see these mountains just encircling everything. Where else do you have this? That’s what makes Cullowhee Cullowhee. — George Frizzell, a resident whose family has lived in the area for more than 200 years